Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

"I Come to Bury Caesar, Not to Praise Him" (1): An Assessment of the AAUG as an Example of an Activist Arab-American Organization

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

"I Come to Bury Caesar, Not to Praise Him" (1): An Assessment of the AAUG as an Example of an Activist Arab-American Organization

Article excerpt

IN A VERY REAL SENSE, I WAS involved in AAUG-type activities long before that organization was established in 1967. Indeed, in 1956, my first year of undergraduate study at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, I found myself being invited to give my views about developments in the Middle East and on Palestine/Israel in particular. I was majoring in engineering at the time and did not know much about these issues. However, I knew for certain that the U.S. media portrayal of those events was either inaccurate or biased against Arabs, or both. I also knew that American policy toward the region was hurting U.S. interests. But I was surprised (and pleased) that the American public was interested in hearing different points of view on such critical issues. Having had a most positive experience the first time I gave a presentation (at a Rotary Club meeting approximately two weeks after my arrival in Peoria about my impressions of the U.S.!) and having lost interest in the specialty I first selected, I began to switch majors from Engineering to Mathematics to Psychology and finally to Political Science/International Relations. I was driven there by my commitment to a balanced view of a troubled region of the world about which I cared greatly, and by an American public interested in fairness in media coverage and U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East. While my disciplinary program of study was situated in the political science department, the focus of any research papers I did was mostly on the Middle East. For example, the topic of my Master's thesis at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1962, was An Evaluation of Middle East News Coverage in Seven American Newsmagazines, July-December, 1956--one of the earliest such attempts at a scholarly study of the subject.

Two major incidents greatly reinforced my belief in the fairness of the American public, in addition to reaffirming my realization of the complexity of American society. In December 1960, on a trip to Florida, as a passenger in a car with five other students, I experienced several incidents of ethnic/racial discrimination. Specifically, at a restaurant in southern Indiana, our waitress took orders from the other five men and was about to leave our table when she was reminded that she forgot to take my order. Her response was, "Oh, we don't serve him!" A more serious incident took place in central Georgia. While I was using the restroom at a store we stopped at, I heard a lot of shouting and commotion outside. The owner of the store kept shouting, "Get that nigger out of there!" My fellow passengers assured him that I was not a Negro, but an Arab. His response was not much different: "Get that A-rab out of there!" The frantic knocking on my bathroom door alerted me to potential trouble. As I walked out, my fellow passengers surrounded me and ushered me out--to protect me, I realized to my horror, from the store owner who stood there with a shotgun pointed at my head. This and other similar, though minor, incidents were my initiation into the racist environment and ugly experiences suffered by those of darker skin. When I arrived at my destination in a small town in northern Florida where I was visiting a friend I had recently met at the Institute of World Affairs in Twin Lakes, Connecticut, I must have displayed some signs of being disturbed by the discrimination that I experienced. After much prodding by my friend, I told her what happened. She then reported this to her father, a Republican who was at the time the chairman of County Commissioners in his area. His response was clear and swift as he telephoned all the media outlets in the town (a newspaper and two radio stations) and suggested that they might want to interview me and report about my unhappy experiences. All three outlets interviewed me and offered apologies for what some Americans had done to me, saying "This is not America, we are the true America and we strive for equality and justice for all. …

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